Q&A With Hayanna Kim a.k.a. @herpickings on Instagram

@herpickings is beloved page for book lovers on Instagram. I came across the account in the early days of “bookstagram” (a hashtag that now has over 19 million posts) and have been a fan for around three years. I was happy to meet the person behind it, Hayanna Kim, in Manhattan Beach this spring to talk books and what it means “to live deliberately.” 

Hayanna started working young. Through high school and college at Syracuse she worked with a mentor on start ups in event planning, tech, and food. Then after college, she was planning on going to law school. She was studying for the L-SATs and interning at a firm in downtown Los Angeles. However, life intervened. She got into a fatal car accident. Its trauma and repercussions revealed that she had Lupus, an autoimmune disease. After having to take a break for a couple of years, she is now looking for her next step and working on her own writing. 

 

How did @herpickings begin? What made you want to share the books you were reading and write about what you’ve read?

I’d just been running since I very young, trying to figure out what I want to do. I was working and then studying and had no time to rest.

I got really sick. I had to quit everything. My symptoms got aggravated after my car accident. My body just crashed. Even though I wanted to work, I couldn’t. If I started something, I would be sick right away. It would be unfair to the employer and to me. I’d have to quit in the middle of it. So I took two years off, maybe even three. I did side stuff, but not a full time job. I took a break. Pretty much didn’t have a choice because I really couldn’t get out of bed for a while. Just being so tired and fatigued and my body was too weak. That’s when I had a lot of time to read.

I was home by myself when I was sick. Then you feel lonely. I couldn’t go out with my friends. Because I got sick in my early 20s, everyone was doing their own thing. I felt isolated. I needed community. I was just looking and found the first book people on Instagram. I was like, ‘that’s fun,’ and we were reading the same books. People ask me, ‘how did you grow it?’ My intention was never to grow the account. It was more for me.

At first, reading would be escapism. And then after a while, reading would be a daily routine. I would have anxiety and panic attacks, and if I didn’t read even a couple of pages a day, I would feel like I couldn’t calm myself down. It was kind of a coping mechanism for me for a couple of years.

It was one thing that kept me going. Waking up every morning early, at the same time. It’s something that helped me heal. Go to a coffee shop, just sit there, read. And do what I love. And it became a routine for me. Which helped me get out of my depression. Because when you’re sick you’re always home, and you get depressed.

That’s why when I did posts, it kind of helped me work through certain things in my life– being able to share and having other people relate to it as well.

A lot of the books I read helped me face my reality.

I’m working on a book of essays now, and that’s one of the reasons I especially like your posts, because they seem to be about books of essays. Did you start reading essays when you got sick?

No I always did read essays, but think I read more. It was easier to read. If I didn’t want to or couldn’t read a whole book, I would dive in, and then I’d dive in and out.

Also, I like essay writing. It’s interesting how it can change over the years, and how personal it can be too. It was the form of writing that I did most. But also sometimes, I want to read books depending on what I’m going through at the time. People ask, how do you pick  the books you want to read? I just pick whatever I feel at that time. It’s more emotional.

What does it mean to you to live deliberately?  Can you share what you’ve found through your readings and from the perspective of your illness? 

Reading helped me heal every day. Whenever I read, there are bits and parts that speak to me. Whether it’s a sentence or a passage. It triggers something in me, and me trying to unlearn what society has taught me.

Unlearn at first and then re-learn that I don’t have to follow what society tells me. Because growing up I thought I have to go to college, get a job right away. I always thought you have to follow A-B-C, but because I got sick on the way, I had to take a break, take a step away, to see what can I do in my life. First of all, how can I stay happy, but also make a living without getting myself to this very sickest point again. Finding balance. Finding what’s my normal, not other people’s normal. Because I have to back off certain things in my live in order to do one thing just because of my energy levels, because I can’t go out every weekend like my friends would, or else I couldn’t work all week because I’d be too tired. There are things I have to sacrifice, like throughout my day, I need to pick and choose what’s important to me to go through the day, get through the day, and then wake up the next day and do that again.

 

So, I had to figure out, what is my goal? Do I want a lot of money? Is that really worth it for me. Because making money means working like a dog again. For me, it just wasn’t worth it. So I had to let go of my ideal of what I had in the past. I had to rethink everything of what I thought I knew.

So you start with your health and body, and then go from there?

Yes. Becacuse without my health, I can’t do anything else or help anyone else to begin with. Also just job wise, I don’t want to do something just for the money, like of course you need a living, but I want to do something more meaningful in the end. If I think 10 years from now, would I have helped inspire at least one person, instead of just living day-by-day. I want to do something a little more, and I think that changed from before when I was sick.

Even though I got better, there are still things I can’t do. And I’ve accepted that. I have physical limitations. There are people who stay at work until 10pm, and then do their own stuff afterwards. And I know physically I cant do that, or I’ll go back into the cycle of being sick.

Do you look at people and say, if only you know that you need to just work two hours less and take care of yourself?

Yes. And my friends, when they see me, they realize that. And right now there are so many autoimmune diseases, there are so many people I know personally that have it. It’s really interesting to see. I know older people that have been working their whole lives, and they get really sick and they don’t know why. They quit their jobs and stress less, and they’re better.

Can you recommend two books you think people should read to live deliberate lives?

I like reading journal, diary entries, like Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus.

 

Those journals I always go back to because, it’s about their struggles with writing, and they write about their struggles getting through their days. For me, I like reading journal entries that aren’t too edited. And it shows that you’re not alone. When I don’t feel like reading anything else, I go back to journal entries.

If anything I would recommend Rebecca Solnit’s, The Field Guide to Getting Lost. That’s something I feel that, everyone, no matter what they’re going through, can pick up that book when they’re feeling lost and know that being lost is OK. Because no one really knows. I talk to people older, younger, way older, and no one really figures it out. We’re just living trying to figure it out who we are. It’s really interesting to know that you don’t have to know everything now. And you might not find everything ever, either. It’s the search.

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2018 Reading Challenge: Book Recommendations

It seems like everywhere I look, people are starting reading challenges for the new year. Some are aiming to read 18 books, some 80… I set my own 2018 reading challenge at 55 books. The way I see it, that’s roughly a book per week, which I think is a reasonable, realistic goal. Some weeks I’ll go through three books for research, while one lovely, long book might take me a couple of weeks. It should balance out all right.

Setting a reading goal helps me to be thoughtful about what is important to me (reading books) and to be deliberate about managing my time to prioritize that.

I thought I would share some of my favorite reads from the past year and a half or so (this isn’t all of them, but a fairly good bunch). These books are all different from each other. I’m a big believer in reading all kinds of books, and not comparing them to each other. I love both a good piece of cake and nicely roasted vegetables, but I can’t really compare them to each other or rank them. I need them both in my life!

Non-fiction

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • Genre: Biography, Social Justice, Race
  • I feel like everyone knows this book as it was everywhere when it came out. It won the National Book Award in 2015 and is a must-read for all Americans.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

  • Genre: Science, Nature
  • This shares surprising facts about trees that will make you think twice about what “humanity” means and your place in the world (for example: they mourn when a tree in their group dies, they communicate with each other) from a German forest manager.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

  • Genre: History, True Crime
  • An incredible true story of what it took to set up the 1893 Chicago World Fair. You really get a sense of what the world was like then, the long-lasting impact of the fair, and how people could disappear for so long without any questions asked…

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

  • Genre: Essays
  • With humor and sharp observations, this Canadian author writes about immigration and being a woman today.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

  • Genre: Science, Memoir
  • A wonderful exploration of the intelligence and consciousness of this mysterious sea creature

Fiction

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

  • Genre: Thriller, Suspense
  • One of my favorite quotes comes from this book:

“Because what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?” ― Noah Hawley

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  • Genre: Young Adult
  • One of the most popular books of recent times. So beautifully written, every sentence makes you stop, and yet you can’t stop reading at the same time.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

  • Genre: Contemporary, Adult
  • This book stands out as perhaps a top two of the past year. Its beautiful writing and story will challenge you in unexpected ways.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • One of my favorite books is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and this epistolary novel set during World War II has a similar feel. I spent a very enjoyable entire Sunday with this book.

How many books do you hope to read in 2018? And are there any books you really enjoyed reading during the past year or so that you recommend?